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Thursday, 25 May 2017 06:41

Profiles in Courage

Written by  Bob Serody

On the evening of May 7th, we witnessed on TV the presentation of the Profiles in Courage award to President Barak Obama at the JFK Library in Boston. It was a moving and well-deserved tribute to a president who demonstrated his courage,both political and moral, during his two terms in office.

As I listened to Obama’s speech, I was carried back to the times of JFK, when I experienced the enthusiasm, hope, and the promise of a young, vigorous generation that could accomplish the impossible, given the right person to lead us. One could sense that JFK would steer us on the right course. He electrified many of us, regardless of wealth, gender, or race. He knew how to stand up to the Soviet Union while meeting the challenge of gathering the resources to put a man on the Moon.  This was a young man who inspired us to accomplish the things that were hard, not easy. We cannot forget that John was also a hero in the Pacific where his PT Boat collided with a Japanese ship, and he went on to help save a member of his crew from drowning. He admired great Americans and wrote about them in his book, Profiles in Courage. He and Jackie Kennedy also made an attractive couple. His public speeches with that New England accent and his endearing sense of humor made people feel confident that he was the right man for the job. As we looked back on those one thousand days, we believed that we had been living in the land of Camelot.

I also remembered the moment when he was assassinated. I was on a destroyer out of Philadelphia to help check out newly installed communications equipment. It was November 22, 1963. I still remember the ensign exiting the radio compartment with tears streaming down his face. The next thing I knew, the flag was lowered to half-staff. We reversed course and returned to port. I also remember being the only passenger in the subway car that night. The streets were empty. Everyone was home watching the news. Later I heard that school children in the South cheered when they heard of Kennedy’s death. But many people cried as never before since the death of FDR.

I bring forth my memories of that day to give some insight behind the special meaning of this award, and why Obama had been selected to receive it this year.

As Obama mentioned in his acceptance speech, he would not have been there if it hadn’t been for the opportunities that grew out of that time of Camelot where people could start to think it was possible for anyone to become president, regardless of race. JKF was the first Catholic to be elected president, and it was fitting that Obama was the first black man. In spite of our differences, we have grown together over time as a nation that could absorb immigrants from all over the world. Who would have thought that a black man from a major party could be elected, not once, but twice in a row.  

There were reasons why it happened, and it begins with his accomplishments. There was of course the Affordable Care Act that gave health care to 20 million additional Americans, many of whom previously depended on hospital emergency rooms because they were either poor or suffered from preexisting conditions.  There was Obama’s initiative in entering into a Climate Control Agreement in Paris. He knew that its success and the future of the planet depended on the leadership of the United States. We recall his pain and the brave stance he took in asking for tighter gun control legislation. Every time people were gunned down, including classrooms full of children, we witnessed his tears as he repeated his request to Congress to act. His visit to Hiroshima, Japan to honor the dead victims of an atomic bomb was an attempt to show that the only way to prevent another nuclear catastrophe was through nuclear disarmament. He bailed out the car industry and saved the banks at a time when we faced the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The rest of his time in office showed steady growth and low unemployment. On foreign affairs, he saw that our previous policies of military engagements were not accomplishing either world stability or our own foreign policy objectives, but were instead having the opposite effect. It bothered him deeply that we were sacrificing our youth, while countries like Afghanistan and Syria sustained unacceptable casualties in their civilian populations. He therefore significantly reduced ground troops in favor of limited pinpoint strikes in an attempt to wipe out terrorist leaders.

He maintained his cool and showed a gracious demeanor in spite of attacks from angry Republicans who hated Obama Care and deliberately blocked all cooperation in reaching any form of legislative compromise during his remaining time in office. It wasn’t a stretch to say that this massive resistance had something to do with the color of the president’s skin. That didn’t stop Obama from doing what was necessary through executive orders to better serve the public, in spite of the gridlock in Congress. No one will forget Judge Garland’s harsh treatment by Republican Senators when Obama attempted to fill Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. Refusing to even meet with the nominee was meant as a slap in the face to the president.

Obama was far from perfect. His other major campaign promise to improve education in the public schools was a failure. Many frustrated parents have turned to charter schools as a result. To prevent a future financial collapse, he should have broken up the largest banks.  Obama was too much of a gentleman when it came to pushing his priorities through Congress. He should have spent more time forging a strong bond with Democratic members of Congress. However, he still had the credentials to perform the duties of his office and the savvy to hire and nominate good people for the executive and judicial branches of government.

I was personally happy to see that he alluded to Trump indirectly without mentioning his name by expressing serious concerns for our future. Yet he held out hope by showing his admiration for those congressmen who stood on principle, even if it meant losing their chances for reelection to congress in 2008. I believe Obama will become more active by engaging on a personal level with other leaders of the world because of Trump’s failures in the first 100 days to reestablish ties with our allies.

There were several reasons why Trump won the presidency. Hillary Clinton was tainted by her connections to financial interests, which made both Democrats and Independents distrustful of her. Then there were the classified e-mails and the accusations during the Benghazi investigation that she didn’t react swiftly enough to save the American ambassador in Libya. There were the damaging revelations about the DNC’s manipulations to defeat Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  Finally, there was the damaging statement by FBI Director Comey, that he was reopening the investigation into Hillary’s e-mails just a few days before the election. Now Congress is attempting to find out the extent of Russia’s interference into the election and its ties to the Trump campaign. Guess who was heading up that investigation?

I say ‘was’ because I just heard on BBC News that Trump has fired James Comey for ‘many self-inflicted wounds’ in his investigation of Hillary Clinton.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions, although he had previously recused himself from matters related to the Clinton probe and the Russian ties to the Trump campaign, recommended that Trump fire the FBI Director.  The timing of the firing casts suspicion that Trump wants to appoint someone who will impede the FBI investigation into any White House relations with the Russians, including any business ties either Trump or his supporters had with Russian leaders prior to the election. Congressmen are referring to this firing of Comey as Nixonian. This latest turn of events will put strong pressure on Republican leaders in Congress to stop circling the wagons around the White House and to agree with Democrats that a special prosecutor appointed by Congress is the only recourse available to ensure Americans that the investigation will go forward.  At this point it looks like part of a massive cover-up. We are now in a constitutional crisis. If a proper investigation results in criminal prosecutions, starting with Michael Flynn, the trail could possibly lead to the president himself.  General James Clapper confirmed that US intelligence agencies have possessed secret information about ties between Trump’s circle and Moscow since late 2015. Clapper described a report by the Guardian on this matter, published last month, as “accurate”.  Sally Yates acknowledged that some of Flynn’s conduct in his relations with Russia, and which is publicly known, rises to the level of criminal behavior. 

One point we must not forget. Our founding fathers warned that the most important thing we must guard against in preserving our way of life is to prevent foreign interference.

Although we will see how this plays out, how can we be assured that in the future, voters will be able to look for an American President who has the moral values, experience, leadership qualities, basic knowledge, and the desire to leave the country in better shape after his term in office? This implies that the voters display a certain amount of common sense . Considering the number of citizens eligible to run for president, how did we select a person like Trump, who has none of these qualifications?

I believe I might have found the answer. A friend handed me a little red book that should be distributed to every eligible voter. I am not referring to Chairman Mao’s book that was distributed to millions of Chinese subjects during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This little red book is entitled the True Patriot by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.  I have just begun reading it. It may have the answer in showing how Americans can come together, not so much on political issues, but on moral grounds. I’ll get back with an explanation after I’ve read this book. Until then, I’ll include a quote made in October 17, 1899 by Senator Carl Schurz.

 I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves… too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: “Our country, right or wrong!” They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: “Our country – when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.”

It is time for Republicans in Congress to remember the award established in JFK’s name for political leaders who exhibit a “profile in courage”.


Bob Serody is a member of Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

*ED. NOTE: The views expressed here are solely those of the author. SCPA does not endorse candidates and welcomes commentary on a wide range of issues, including political campaigns, local,regional and national. If interested in contributing commentary, please contact SCPA.

Last modified on Friday, 26 May 2017 16:49
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